The Starfish program exists to keep families together. The program’s ultimate goal is to equip mothers who are at-risk of relinquishing their children to orphanages because they live in such extreme poverty they are unable to meet the children’s most basic needs. On a very regular basis, women show up at the gates of Tytoo Gardens with the wish to abandon their children because they are so desperate and feel they have no better option.
The Starfish program is unique as each woman in the program has her own unique, individual needs. Overall, we try to address the individual needs with the end goal being the family staying together as a unit.
We focus on four main areas:
1.) Housing: making sure the family has a safe place to live
Some women enter the program homeless, so our first priority will be finding them a place to stay. We have a rescue house rented in the village of Simonette, which is utilized in emergency situations when a mother needs a place to stay with her children. For some women, we rent a house; others we repair and fix their house; and, in extreme cases, we build an entire new house.
2.) Education: making sure each woman has an opportunity to enroll her children in school
Many of the children to Starfish women have never gone to school. If they have gone to school, it’s common they owe money to the school and the mom is having a hard time paying all of the fees. If possible, we transfer and/or enroll the child at the Community School funded by Touch of Hope since we have direct ties to the school and tuition is essentially free. If the family lives in a neighboring village and the child is too young, then he or she may be unable to attend the Community School and we then look for another option of education. School fees can cost over $100 US for enrollment, which may not seem like much, but to an unemployed woman with 3, 4, or 5 children it can be a massive amount.
We truly believe full-circle change happens when the children have an opportunity for education, making this aspect of the program very imporant!
3.) Employment: making a way for each woman to have an income
This part of the program is the most challenging. The unemployment rate in Haiti is estimated to be around 80% so finding employment for the women in the Starfish Program is very difficult. The Haitian economy is mostly made up in the local markets on a bartering system, so most of the women will be given small business loans for what we call a “ti commerce” (small business) to have in the market. Anything from charcoal and rice to hygiene products and clothes are sold in a “ti commerce“. While a “ti commerce” isn’t always a reliable source of income, it’s always seen as a start for some women. I, Kayla, have seen several women “make it” with their “ti commerce” and others fail within two weeks, but some days it’s our only option.
In the past, women have been given employment opportunities through the orphanage or the Community School and through job creation initiatives such as the Denim Project and Little by Little. I hope to see many women be employed by Salsa Sisters some day as well!
4.) Spiritual transformation: making each woman know her identity in Jesus Christ
Lastly, but most importantly, we wish to see each woman come to know Jesus Christ while in the Starfish program. While most women I meet will say they know Jesus, most will admit they don’t follow Him. Every two weeks, we meet as a group at Tytoo Gardens and lead the women with a teaching or devotion. We hope to see that by the time they graduate from the program, they will have a deeper understanding of their identity in Jesus Christ and a have a new found freedom in that identity.
The Starfish program is the most difficult program we run through Touch of Hope, yet the most rewarding. The investment we make in each woman’s life is not taken lightly as change doesn’t happen over night in their desperate circumstances. To walk alongside these women, you can become a sponsor of the Starfish program today. Click here to learn more!
The Starfish Program is run by Kayla and Mami Sarah. Mami Sarah is an every day super woman. She is the head mommy at the orphanage, plus she manages the orphanage kitchen.